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Monthly Archives: September 2011

I’m by no means qualified to speak intelligently on the 2011 MLB postseason, but then again, neither are most of the people who get on television and radio to do so, so here we go.


As a fan of the Detroit Tigers, I figured it was worth it to get excited for at least a short time here, before the hockey season officially starts and the Tigers are probably officially out.

Kudos to the Boston Red Sox for finishing the most beautiful collapse since my Tigers in 2009. And kudos to the Yankees for flying down to Tampa and getting swept, even when they had an accidental 7-0 lead in the eighth inning last night over the Rays. It took a lot of guts for Mark Teixeira to stand on second base Tuesday night while the ball was flying toward the wall with no outs, which led to him holding up at third on a double! The next hitter was intentionally walked, and the next guy grounded into a triple play! Way to run that out, Yanks. Then last night, there was not only that 7-0 lead in the 8th, but also a 2-out, 2-2 count on a nobody hitter with nobody on in the bottom of the 9th. Of course the guy blasts a laser over the right field wall to extend the game. He was so all over that pitch that it’s almost like he knew what was coming…

Either way, it was beautiful.

In other news, the Atlanta Braves blew a similar wild card lead to the St. Louis Cardinals. In news I’m more sure of, nobody cares. Side note: Atlanta led St. Louis by 8.5 games in September; Boston led Tampa Bay by 9 games in the final month.

Looking ahead to the ALDS, the Tigers drew the same opponent that they had en route to the ’06 World Series: the New York Yankees. Just like five years ago, the Tigers will be the road team after carrying yet another 95-67 record. Perhaps even more eerily, the Yankees  went 97-65 in both 2006 and 2011. Same franchises, same records, same result?

In ’06, the Tigers went into Yankee Stadium and gained an unforeseen split after Game 2 was postponed a day due to rain. The game was started by the soon-to-be-named rookie of the year, Justin Verlander. After recovering from a three-run homer by Johnny Damon, the Tigers never trailed the Yankees again. The two games at Comerica Park saw the home team win by a combined total of 14-3.

This time around, Curtis Granderson plays for the other team, and only Verlander remains from that rotation that calmly decimated the AL in ’06. But the opportunity is there again for the Tigers. Detroit’s plan is to throw Verlander – Doug Fister – Max Scherzer – Rick Porcello – Verlander. It’s conceivable that the Tigers could win both games in New York with those pitchers and that little league park for hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but analysis isn’t the same once you assume two road wins to start a series.

If Detroit is able to start the series 2-1, then it will be able to go with its intended rotation. If, however, the Yankees lead the series 2-1 after three games, the Tigers would have the option of starting Verlander in Game 4 on three days rest, and follow up with Fister in Game 5 on normal rest. I would contend that if Fister shows stones at Yankee ballpark in Game 2, then Detroit should probably do this condensed rotation even if it leads two games to one. Why go Porcello – Verlander when you can go Verlander – Fister, especially the way Fister has been pitching since the Tigers acquired him?

The series could go either way, but I’m optimistic. Game 1 is Friday night, with Game 2 the following day. Sunday is a scheduled travel day, to make room for our fantasy hockey draft.

The other ALDS is Tampa Bay at Texas. I don’t have a lot to say on this one, except that Tampa Bay is a tougher team to play than Boston with the differences in starting pitching. While Boston couldn’t get an out and had to roll out John Lackey every fifth day, the Rays have a stable of good starters. James Shields will throw the first game on Friday, but after that it’s in question due to the Rays having to go all out to get into the playoffs. They have David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jeff Niemann to choose from.


*** I’m now reading that it will be Niemann that throws Game 1, and not Shields. ***

Texas isn’t bad themselves, but the tendency is to assume that a team that lost Cliff Lee can’t be as good as it was when it had him. That could be a faulty assumption. Additionally, the Rangers get the luxury of being at home in this series.

That meant nothing last season though, as these teams played the only watchable division series of the four, and even that meant there were five games of baseball decided by three or more runs. All five stinkers were won by the road team. If that happens again, Tampa Bay will move on.

I’m not going to break down the National League, because quite frankly, I don’t give a shit. Philadelphia should handle St. Louis before it gets to a fifth game, and the Arizona – Milwaukee matchup could go either way.

Most people will pick Milwaukee either because they’re at home or because they have more players that anyone has heard of (which is probably three or four), but I think the D’backs might pull something here. I expect Ian Kennedy (21-4) to win Game 1, and then it’ll be interesting to see that Brewers crowd get desperate and scared. They know Prince Fielder is walking away for free in the offseason, so a first-round loss might put them in the asylum. But then again, this is baseball. This series will probably go the distance.

Predictions:

– Tampa Bay over Texas in 5 games
– Detroit over New York in 4 games
– Philadelphia over St. Louis in 4 games
– Arizona over Milwaukee in 5 games

Isn’t this a nice little distraction for the final week without real NHL hockey?
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The Nashville Predators enter the 2011-12 season riding the high of the franchise’s first ever playoff series victory. They are led by head coach Barry Trotz, who enjoyed his first full day as Preds boss on Sidney Crosby’s eleventh birthday. Trotz has been the only head coach the franchise has ever known, and this continuity along with Trotz’ fierce dedication to physical play and defensive responsibility have been essential factors in the franchise’s slow and steady rise up the ranks of the NHL’s western conference.


And although it came as no surprise, the team also was able to bring back captain Shea Weber, the most popular pick for the Norris Trophy this season, albeit, through arbitration.
This should be a time for celebration and excitement over new goals that may be achievable in the near future. If some of the Preds’ young forwards can come good early and help out Martin Erat, David Legwand, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher and the like, the team may even be able to allow a goal here and there and still win games.
But to me, the situation surrounding the Predators looks like a house of cards, with everyone looking around and holding their breath, lest they be the one that blows the house down.
The reason I believe this is that the team is essentially built around three players within Trotz’ system: Weber, fellow defenseman Ryan Suter, and goaltender Pekka Rinne. I’m not saying the team doesn’t have young talent, or that a franchise death watch is in order, but rather that the health and success of the franchise over the next few years is almost entirely dependent upon these three players.
Problem #1: Weber, Suter and Rinne are all in the final years of their contracts. Potential solution: the Preds have the 26th highest payroll in the league, and can easily extend all three without worrying about the salary cap ceiling. But that’s just to say that it is possible for the Preds to sign the three players that the team is currently dependent upon. It’s not to say that they will.
Problem #2: The Predators will have to extend Weber a qualifying offer of at least $7.5 million for a season before July 1, 2012 if they want to avoid him becoming an UFA. That’s a lot of money, but again, the team should have it to spend. On top of that, they must know that Weber is worth it, since a Norris candidate can be had for less money than Christian Ehrhoff in Buffalo.
Problem #3: Are Weber and Suter looking to each other’s commitment to the team? This is the problem I see. It’s easy to assume that Nashville can just throw money at the problem and sign all three big time players to long-term deals and solidify their western conference relevance for years to come. It’s harder to actually pull that off, especially if one of them believes the other will leave.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that the new year rolls around and Weber is still not extended. Suter may look at this and see it as a sign that the club is not serious enough to win a Stanley Cup in the duration of his playing career. Conveniently enough for him, he’s an UFA on July 1 if he wants to be. And why wouldn’t he want to be, given the goofy contracts that were handed out to remedial NHLers this past summer? Hmm, so to not get serious and lock down Weber could spell the departure of Suter.
Similarly, why wouldn’t Weber take his partner’s status with the team into consideration in his own contract talks? If Weber feels like Suter may leave, then what incentive is there for Weber to re-up with a team that will have lost his two best running mates in consecutive years (see: Dan Hamhuis in Vancouver)? Men turning 27 years old aren’t looking to sign their one huge contract with a team looking to rebuild. By the time the puck drops in October 2012, that’s exactly the ages that Weber and Suter will be. So now, to not get serious and lock down Suter could spell the departure of Weber.
Well now, this is shaping up to be a fine mess for the Predators if they’re unable to keep both D men happy and on board. The same can be said for Rinne, although I think there is a different dynamic to goaltenders. Rinne could certainly test the waters next summer, but there are a finite amount of teams that will have an open spot at starting goaltender and a lot of money to plug it with. Conversely, almost every team would try to make room for Weber.
And can I just point out that problem #4 just may actually be the Preds’ payroll figure? Sure, being 26th in the league means you have a lot of cap space, but it also means you’re probably a team that doesn’t spend a lot of money on payroll. Suter and Rinne will probably require raises at the end of the season, and Weber may also. That $7.5 million figure is certainly high, but these salaries keep getting more and more out of control every year, and Weber is better than almost every player that receives any contract.
But assuming that Nashville is willing to spend the money to re-sign its three stars, they still must be able to assure each of them that the team is serious about continuing its progression and eventually winning a Stanley Cup. Communication will be key. So will the team’s record for the first four months of the season — before those last few weeks prior to the trade deadline. If the team is outside of a playoff spot, the chatter will grow loud and the inquiries frequent, and don’t think that Weber and Suter won’t be listening at least a little.
With the players that they have and the style that they play, the Predators should be alright this year and compete for one of the last three playoff spots in the west. But the big questions are, will they still have the players that they have, and will all three indispensable ones have both feet in the water? If not, the Preds will go from playing a 7-game series to playing 52-card pickup.
A story came out last night that the New Jersey Devils will honor Scott Niedermayer by retiring the former defenseman’s jersey number 27 high in the rafters at the Prudential Center.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, as Niedermayer was a part of all three Devils’ championships in the last two decades (1995, 2000, ’03), served as team captain in 2004, and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in that same year that he wore the “C.” What was a little surprising to me was that Scotty will be only the third player to have his number retired by the Devils, but then again, this is a team that has only been in New Jersey since 1982. On top of that, some of the Devils’ heroes and Cup winners are still playing, although it could be argued that only goaltender Martin Brodeur’s jersey number 30 has a reservation up on the ceiling. The other players to have their numbers retired by the Devils are both defensemen from the same era — Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens (jersey numbers 3 and 4, for those who care).


I’m not sure that any Devils forwards will get the honor, although Jason Arnott’s overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup in 2000 was kind of a big deal. In addition, Patrik Elias is entering his 14th season as a regular in the lineup, served as captain in 2006-07, and is the franchise all-time leader in regular season and playoff assists and points, playoff goals, game winning goals, and many other notable statistics. To add to his resume, the team captaincy is currently vacant following the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner, and Elias just may be the logical bet to fill the spot once again, since Zach Parise’s future with the team is in doubt, and to name Ilya Kovalchuk as team captain would almost certainly be kissing Parise goodbye. [Read Tram’s Table on American NHL team captains, which includes a bit on Parise’s prospects of joining the bunch.]

An interesting note on the retirement of Niedermayer’s jersey is that the team is waiting until December 16 to do it. New Jersey will host the Dallas Stars on that night, which ties in with those 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, when Arnott’s Game 6 overtime goal reversed the fortunes of the Stars, who scored their own controversial Game 6 (triple) overtime Cup clincher of their own just one year prior. But that matchup isn’t the only thing linking the two franchises.

As I alluded to in my early prognostication of the central division, specifically Langenbrunner and Arnott being current members of the St. Louis Blues, there was a trade between Dallas and New Jersey in 2002 that many in the lone star state consider to have derailed the franchise. The sentiment only grew stronger when New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 2003.

At that time, still in the aftermath of the 2000 Cup Finals defeat at the hands of the Devils, Stars GM Doug Armstrong orchestrated a trade to bring Arnott to Dallas, along with Randy McKay and a first-round draft pick. In exchange, Dallas sent Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk to New Jersey. Both players were important parts of the Devils’ most recent Cup win. Langenbrunner captained the Devils from 2007 – 2011. Nieuwendyk is currently the general manager of the Stars. Interestingly, Armstrong is now the GM of the Blues, who will roll out Langenbrunner and Arnott for the first time as members of the Blues in just over a week’s time.

So while it makes sense to honor Niedermayer on a night when the visitors are a team that played a key role in the storyline of the hosts, I have to wonder if there isn’t a little bit of rubbing it in going on here. Why wait three-and-a-half months into the season to have this ceremony on the one night this year that the Devils host the Stars? It could be that this is the date that best fits Niedermayer’s schedule. It could also be that the teams of the NHL want to bring history full circle as a way to remind old fans and educate new ones. It could also be that Nieuwendyk rather likes the idea of remembering his ’03 Cup hoisting against the franchise that he poured his heart and soul into — the very one that betrayed him with that ’02 trade, and the one that he is now in charge of. Or, it could be none of these things.

The logical choice as visitors to honor Niedermayer would have been the Anaheim Ducks, who play in New Jersey on February 17. Any other team in the league would have been an arbitrary choice, and one that would put the sole focus on the legendarily smooth-skating defenseman. But to choose the one night in the season when the Dallas Stars are in town reeks of sly salt-pouring, or perhaps an ode to warriors past. But whatever this decision was, it almost certainly was not arbitrary.
While I’ve been watching hockey since the age of my first memories, I’m entering my 16th season as a fantasy hockey competitor. The beginning of it all was right around when fantasy football was starting to become popular just within the crowd that payed attention to that kind of stuff — namely gamblers, baseball aficionados looking for something to do in the fall, and generally older men. I was eleven going into that 1995-96 season, but that didn’t stop me from running what I thought was the greatest four-team league in the world. We used a snake draft to fill our fill our roster of six forwards, four defensemen and two goalies. I created some sort of point system that was probably lifted from The Sporting News or some similar magazine, and included something like four skating statistics and three goalie stats. We ran the stats every week on whatever day it was that USA Today printed NHL statistics in the newspaper (I think it was Thursday, but I can’t really remember. They probably still do it to this day). Needless to say, every team was an all-star team and our one-week playoff matchups (which every team in the league qualified for) were almost entirely a crapshoot.
I quickly went out of my way to add owners and overhaul the way we scored the leagues, and throughout the years the thing grew and grew. During one season (2000-01), I even went with the “pick one player from each group” format. I created the groups and went around with a couple of my best friends to try to get everybody signed up — just one dollar to enter. After getting so many teams that we could justify a 32-team tournament for the title, the league was eventually won by a young lady in my junior class, a fact which slapped the rest of us know-it-alls in the face.

We kept tweaking and kept refining, eventually switching from points-based to category-based scoring; from weekly to daily roster changes; from scoring by hand to letting a website handle everything. Three years ago I took everything that I had learned and tried to form the best possible fantasy hockey league, and I’m proud to say that entering Season Four we have a group of men and women that would probably all testify to the realization of that goal. But, nothing’s ever final. Parts are always moving, and today I want to talk about the pros and cons, dos and don’ts of setting up and playing in a fantasy hockey league. There’s no one right answer — each commissioner and league is free to decide what it wants to deem important. There are a couple wrong answers, which I’ll mention, but all in all I want to talk about how a person can best play fantasy hockey the way they want to.

Fantasy Hockey Should at Least Somewhat Mimic Real, On-ice Hockey
This is my number one canon when it comes to fantasy hockey. Too often I see leagues that are entirely based on goals and assists, specifically those scored on the power play. The lame, unimaginative argument is that in real hockey, all that matters is the final score, and therefore goals, and to a lesser extent assists, should dominate the decision over who wins a fantasy hockey game.
I hate this argument. If all you want to do is see who can predict the league’s scoring race with the most accuracy, by all means go for the “points are all that matters” setup to your fantasy game. But if you’re looking for a more favorable depiction of the sport and a game that more closely mimics reality, dig deeper. The “final score” argument is flawed because it does not take into account the defenseman that hit the ice to block the slap shot from the point; it does not take into account the right wing that charged into the side boards to hit the opponent, dig the puck out and flip it into the neutral zone; it does take into account the center that picks up the clearance and turns up ice with his all-star left wing for an odd-man rush, but only to the extent that the center’s pass is one that leads directly to the left wing’s goal. Here we have a team play that engrosses all three zones of the hockey rink. Therefore, I believe that to have a fantasy game that best aligns itself with real hockey success, we need a game that gives fantasy credit to those players who make plays that lead to real on-ice success for their teams.
Hence, you will never find me supporting or taking seriously a fantasy hockey game that does not give credit for hits and blocked shots. Is a hit as valuable as a goal? Well, no. But a hit is more valuable than zero, and as such it must be given some fantasy value higher than zero.
In a points-based league, it is easy to give points for hits and blocks that are a fractional value of the points awarded for goals. What that ratio should be is entirely up to each league, although comparing the league leaders in each stat could be a start. There usually aren’t more than a few guys who register more than 300 hits in a season. Comparatively, fifty goals seems to be a mark that not more than a few guys will hit in any given season. So, if you want to make a clean comparison and just say that six hits shall equal a goal, go for it. Many people will argue that a 6:1 ratio gives too much credit to hits, but really go out and look at how many 6-hit games there are in the NHL for one player. They’re pretty rare, and it’s just one goal we’re equating six hits to. Do it however you want, just make sure you give something to the physical stats. That is, of course, if you want to play in a league that gives even a small effort to mimic real hockey.
If you play in a categories-based league, it becomes a little trickier to fractionalize the lesser stats because each category generally counts the same. While you can probably tell that I hate leagues that make it possible to tally a point in seven different categories by performing one action, there are ways to adjust the weight of goal-scoring without having it completely determine the outcome of your league.
I should get this out of the way right now: if you see a league that is categories-based and scores the following as separate but equal stats, run the other way:
  • Goals
  • Assists
  • Points
  • Power Play Goals
  • Power Play Assists
  • Power Play Points
  • Short Handed Goals
  • Short Handed Assists
  • Short Handed Points
  • Special Teams Goals
  • Special Teams Assists
  • Special Teams Points
I see leagues set up like this far too often on the internet. Let’s assume that Player X gets lucky and gets an assist on a shorthanded breakaway. He would score “1” in seven different categories! Seven! Meanwhile, his teammate hits four guys, blocks three shots and gets an assist while at even strength, and gets credit in fewer categories (and that’s assuming this league even counts hits and blocks, which so many novice leagues do not).
Let’s count the ways in which Player X scored a “1” with this single action (the shorthanded assist). Player X scores “1” in: assists, points, short handed assists, short handed points, special teams assists, special teams points, and plus/minus (almost all leagues track +/-, and remember, you get a plus-1 for shorthanded points). This is just absurd, and detracts from the point of playing fantasy hockey, which in my opinion should be to have a gathering amongst fans who want to pit their knowledge and luck against each other in a way that might resemble what would happen if they were all real GMs of clubs. Letting a single action count for seven categories, or even close to that number, defeats the purpose of even playing. It’s absurd, don’t do it.
Our league added “special teams points” a year ago in an effort to give more of a reward to the league’s premium players. We count goals and assists, as well as +/-. By having these four scoring stats, you ensure that a scoring action counts in two categories. Either your guy scores or gets an assist at even-strength, which counts as either a goal or an assist, as well as a plus-1, or he gets a point on the power play, which counts as the goal or assist and a special teams point. This system also gives a bonus to short handed points, as you would score in three categories for this one action — the goal / assist, a special teams point, and a plus-1. I feel this is a good way to add weight to scoring while also factoring in the physical and very important stats of hits and blocks. If you want to go one further, count “points” as a separate category. But for the love of everything good in this world, don’t entertain these leagues that make absolutely everything based on scoring.
Faceoffs Won is a Communist Stat
I’m not meaning to get into a serious discussion about the ways for nations to allocate resources. I’m simply drawing on that old cliché, “Communism is great in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.” Everybody knows this saying, even if they don’t really understand what it means or why it is or is not true.
I’m here to make my argument that in the realm of fantasy hockey, “faceoffs won” as a stand-alone statistic is great in theory, but does not work in practice.
When we started our continentally elite fantasy league, we were nothing short of fantasy hockey snobs. I would say we still are; perhaps even more so today. I mean I’m writing a long blog entry preaching about how to play fantasy hockey…
But I’m doing it because I care. I care about all of you, who are only still reading this because your mind is open and you want the best fantasy league possible. The temptation for an elitist league is to consider faceoffs won in the same sentence as hits and blocks: they represent an under-appreciated statistic that at many times leads to actual on-ice success. If you have a points-based scoring system, I think it’s fine to give a fractional point total for faceoffs won. I would argue that faceoffs lost should count against a player as well. But in a categories-based scoring system I don’t think there’s any place for faceoff statistics, and here’s why.
Today, pretty much all fantasy hockey leagues are run online. The conveniences are obvious: instant, real-time scoring updates; easy daily transactions and roster changes; a fair, non-biased way to handle free agency and the waiver wire; and most of all, the time that is now not spent by the league commissioner rummaging through a newspaper or online box score to try to add up all of these statistics. But the drawback is a lack of autonomy for the league and its members. Not only is it impossible to implement complicated keeper rules without just honoring some man-made rules that are known to the owners and followed separately from the website’s game rules, but allowing a website to run your league means you’re stuck their decisions regarding a player’s position. This is the key to why faceoffs won shouldn’t really count.
On espn.com, for instance, numerous actual NHL centers are listed as wingers. David Backes, Henrik Zetterberg, Claude Giroux, Antoine Vermette and Brandon Dubinsky are just a few who had hundreds of faceoffs won while remaining eligible as wingers. In some cases, the player isn’t even listed as a center at all. By screwing positional eligibility up, the website creates an easily exploitable glitch by allowing owners to stock up on real centers and playing half of them at wing, guaranteeing victory in the stat category of “faceoffs won.” I’ve went ahead and made the assumption that everyone knows that a league that only rosters forwards, instead of making the distinction between centers and wingers, simply sucks. If that wasn’t clear before, now it should be. That format sucks. It’s juvenile and novice; it’s not even up at the level of remedial.
Now, if you want to count faceoffs in a points-based scoring system, that’s doable. Like I said, faceoffs won and lost should count, so it’s not a “make it up on volume” situation. But, if you prefer a categories-based scoring system, I think faceoffs need to be left behind. I already explained why faceoffs won essentially allows certain owners to manipulate the system.
Going back to the issue of giving the necessary weight to certain actions, I don’t believe keeping two categories for “faceoffs won” and “faceoffs lost” does your league any justice. For one, almost any two fantasy teams will split those categories anyway, as one team will simply take more faceoffs. But second, faceoffs just aren’t that important at most points of a hockey game. Certainly the specialists are called upon to win big draws in a particular zone, but many neutral-zone faceoffs don’t have any impact on the outcome of the game. Sure, they sometimes do, but by counting two categories for faceoffs, you’re only diluting every other category and minimizing each’s importance by adding to the denominator. If you have a league with 13 categories, each stat counts for 7.7% of the total score. Make it 14 stats, and the number falls to 7.1%. Add both faceoff stats to bring the total to 15 categories, and each one is worth 6.7%. What is the point of diluting everything simply to include two stats that will split every week? Or worse, to include one stat that the game setup allows people to cheat at based solely on a website’s ignorance? There’s no point, because doing so takes away from your game mimicking real-life hockey.
We started counting faceoffs won because we wanted to be leaders and improve the correlation between real hockey success and fantasy hockey success. We got rid of it because it simply didn’t work in practice.
Rotisserie / Total Points vs. Weekly H2H Each Category vs. Weekly H2H Most Categories / Weekly H2H Points Matchup
Regardless of how far along we are in our quest for the perfect fantasy hockey league, the number one most important issue that needs to be solved is finding a group of competitors who care about competing in the league. The second most important issue is deciding how to setup the manner in which a league’s champion will be crowned. In category-based scoring leagues, there are three possible ways to keep track of the standings. In points-based scoring leagues, there are only two different ways to determine the standings, but each mirrors one of the three systems that category leagues have to choose from. I’ll explain what each one is, what the positives are to each, and what the drawbacks are. This way, you can play in a league that is most conducive to the type of game you want to play. Remember, this is a six-month commitment, and nobody wants to waste half a year of his or her life. Not to mention, choosing the wrong kind of league can turn a person off to fantasy hockey altogether, and we’d never want that.
Rotisserie Leagues and Total Points Leagues
Before fantasy football blew up and before fantasy baseball was really even a phrase, stat geeks played rotisserie baseball. I really don’t remember hearing the term “fantasy baseball” until a points system came out when I was about 10 years old. Prior to that, I played one season of “rotisserie baseball,” which I found boring at the time, but have come to have an appreciation for. Here’s how a rotisserie hockey league would work.
What it is
Rotisserie leagues are by definition category-based scoring leagues. The league would decide which stat categories it deems valuable, and choose those categories as the ones that count for the league. Let’s assume the league takes nine skating categories and five goalie categories, for a total of fourteen statistical categories. Let’s now say that the league has twelve teams.
Rotisserie leagues tally up the figure that each team has registered for each category, and ranks the teams from top to bottom in each category. So let’s take the category “goals,” for instance. The team that scored the most goals on its active roster throughout the year would score 12 points, while the team with the lowest goal total would score 1 point. We would then perform this analysis for assists, and then for every category that is chosen. Winning a category would secure a team 12 points, while every spot thereafter would score one point less than the spot ahead of it.
True rotisserie leagues don’t score themselves until the end of the season, which usually lasts from puck drop to the final day of the regular season. The “standings” can be calculated at any point, but they’re always fluid as points are never truly in the bank, since a team can be third in the league in, say, goalie wins on February 1, but finish the season in ninth. So those ten points on February 1 ended up only being four points at the end of the season. The champion of the league is the team with the most points at the end of the season.
For points-based scoring leagues, the equivalent to the rotisserie setup is the “total points” league. In a total points league, a pre-determined point total is assigned to each hockey action, and every night players accumulate fantasy points accordingly. The champion of the league is the team with the most total fantasy points at the end of the season. Now, I’ve seen total points leagues that have playoffs. What they do is use the total points system to determine the “regular season” standings, and then have playoff matchups according to seedings. This is almost never done in a rotisserie-style league, and it should be noted that the online sites that run fantasy hockey leagues (I’m just talking about ESPN and Yahoo! here) do not allow for a playoff in a total points league, as they shouldn’t.
The Positives
The upside to a rotisserie or total points league is simple: it gives the best indication as to who is most deserving of a championship over a six-month period. Because these leagues are based on an entire season, the champion of the league is the person who finished in first place overall over the longest possible duration. It is hard to argue against the fact that the person in first place overall after six months did not have the best fantasy team based on the rules and format of the game.
So, the positive is that the best team should always win. In leagues that have playoffs, there is the possibility for one team to dominate for four or five months, only to have a mediocre week or two and bust out without the league title. That dimension in itself could be positive or negative, but it should be understood going in that rotisserie and total points leagues are designed to combat that upset phenomenon, and award the title to the best team manager over a six-month period.
The Negatives
It shouldn’t be hard to see where this system can go wrong. If you’re managing a team that has started poorly, and now we’re halfway through the season and you see yourself in the bottom half of every statistical category, or rocking half the total points of the league leader, what’s the point in pressing on when the ceiling for your team is probably around fourth or fifth place?
This is a mindset that many of us think we are immune to, but I’ve never played in a rotisserie league that didn’t see the bottom half give up and go absent over the final two-thirds of the season. In many ways, the positive breeds the negative. If you set up a league that has no playoff and awards the league title to the best team at the end of the season, then more and more teams are going to lose hope of finishing first as the season goes on.
The only way a rotisserie or total points league can truly work is if it has dedicated owners who will fight the urge to quit or go absent if the going gets tough. One way to do this could be to have something on the line for each spot in the standings. Another is to create some sort of situational trophies, where maybe the team with the best results from weeks 21 to 23 gets a low-level award or something. There has to be something to keep everybody interested in these types of leagues. If you can manage that, I think a rotisserie or total points league can be the most rewarding. The problem is, it’s hard to manage that.
Weekly Most Categories and Weekly Points Matchup Leagues
Everything that isn’t a rotisserie or total points league has to be a head-to-head league. This is exactly what you think it is — each week one team plays another specific team, and points or category totals are compared only between those two teams in determining a winner. It’s exactly like fantasy football, which is almost 100% ran with a weekly head-to-head points matchup style.
What It Is
For a points-based scoring league, this is the only way to do head-to-head matchups every week (or two weeks, or whatever time period you want). For a category-based scoring league, there are two ways to do head-to-head. Let’s keep our example of the 14-category, 12-team league. There would be six matchups every week, and each matchup would be a two-team contention for each of the 14 categories. One way to score the standings is to give a win and a loss for each and every category. So if Team A beats Team B in nine categories, and Team B beats Team A in five, then Team A earns a record of 9-5 that week, while Team B earns a record of 5-9 for that specific matchup. That’s the type of league I’m going to talk about last.
What we’re talking about here, and is the equivalent to the weekly points matchup leagues, is what’s usually called a “head-to-head most categories” league, or weekly most categories. In these leagues, if Team A won 9 categories and lost 5 to Team B, then Team A would earn a record of 1-0 for that week, while Team B would go 0-1 in that specific matchup. This is a way to have a category-based scoring system while also having a league similar to fantasy football in the way that it keeps track of team records and standings, with one win and loss gained from each matchup.
The Positives
The good thing about playing in H2H most categories or H2H points leagues is that it takes longer for teams to be eliminated. Because a team can be truly awful for the first half of the season and still only be three or four games out of the playoffs, it becomes possible for teams to stay in the hunt longer. If a league’s regular season is 20 weeks, then a bad team could be 2-8 halfway though, but only be three games back of the last playoff spot that is currently occupied by a 5-5 team. If that 2-8 team was generally losing the category total 11-3 every week, then they’re record in a H2H each category league would be dreadful. But in the H2H most categories league, their brutal defeats count the same against them as if they were scrapping their way to 8-6 losses. This keeps everyone realistically eligible for the playoffs later into the season, which should only increase the total amount of league hope.
The Negatives
The terrible thing about these kinds of leagues is that they cater almost entirely to keeping every team in it longer, instead of rewarding the truly best team. These leagues are the polar opposite of rotisserie or total points leagues in that they are built to stem the effects of a massive beating for both the winner and loser.
A H2H most categories or H2H points league is best used when there is concern over the amount of owners in the league who are passionate and will follow through to the end. It’s easy to send a text or email to a guy who is 7-10 telling him that if he runs the table he’s in the playoffs, so he should set his team. It’s much harder giving that same pep talk to a guy who is eliminated with three weeks to go while sporting a record of 85-153, which would be the record of an owner who averages a 9-5 loss every week in a H2H each category league.
Even so, as a fantasy hockey elitist I don’t like the idea of basing the setup of a league on keeping people interested, since I think it should be inherent that they are interested before joining the league. I simply note that these leagues are a possibility because I realize that not everyone has 15, 11 or even 9 friends that they can rely upon to give it their best go. And of course, if late-regular season drama is what you’re looking for, these leagues can provide the system necessary to create that. Although I would point out that if you need gimmicks to create late-season interest, you can probably do better with your fantasy hockey league selection.
Weekly Each Category Leagues
This setup is only available to category-based scoring leagues, and offers the best of both worlds that we’ve explored above. It’s the way we run our league, and appears to have the best level of gameplay while also representing actual on-ice hockey.
What It Is
It’s described above. This is the type of league that would give Team A a 9-5 record for the week, and give Team B a 5-9 record for the matchup with Team A. There will be as many wins and losses (combined) for each matchup as there are statistical categories that are counted.
The Positives
Choosing a scoring system is give and take. The H2H each category style takes the positive aspects from each of the other types of fantasy games, while also sacrificing to take on some of the negatives.
One good thing about this style of league is that, unlike a H2H points or H2H most categories league, it gives weight to the best teams by rewarding an 11-3 beating with an 11-3 record. By rights, the best teams that produce the most convincing wins should be given a boost in the standings, and not simply the same 1-0 reward that another team gets from an unconvincing 7-6-1 win. At least that’s my opinion.
A second good thing about this style is that it keeps more teams involved than a rotisserie or total points league. Those leagues have one six-month scoring period, while the H2H each category leagues have (let’s just say) twenty one-week scoring periods. In the former, a team can have a three-week run that sees it separate itself from the pack in a few categories, and that lead is taken all the way to the bank. In the latter, that three-week domination would only show up in the form of three weeks of very good records. The total stats don’t get to carry over from week to week; just the overall record does.
The third positive to H2H each category leagues is that unlike the rotisserie or total points leagues, they allow for a playoff. While it is true that the rotisserie and total points leagues give the titles to the true best teams over the six-month period, that doesn’t exactly resemble the NHL or any North American sport. Here in the western hemisphere, we live for playoffs. So much so, in fact, that many times analysts, coaches and even players publicly dismiss regular season struggles for a team as unimportant. It’s hard to tell a group of fantasy owners to rewire the way they think about a season, and to play in a league that has no postseason playoff.
The Negatives
The only downside to being a moderate is that you’re not an extremist. Is that really a downside? Similarly, the negative with a H2H each category league is only what it gives up to one side or the other in terms of either total championship accuracy or longer-term hope for more teams. What you value is for you to choose, just understand that once you figure out what you want out of a fantasy hockey league, you now can choose the type of scoring and standings system that fits your desires.
The Varying Importance of Goaltenders
Another question to consider before embarking on a specific fantasy league is how big of a portion of the outcome you want goalies to play. Many leagues make goaltenders close to irrelevant by having a simple point system that guarantees a certain range of points scored for every goalie start, or by including too few goalie categories in proportion to skating stats.
This is a decision for each league to make for itself, but understand that there are a limited amount of goalies that will play even close to half of their teams’ games. The more fantasy teams in your league, the more scarce goalies become. In 10 or 12-team leagues, everybody’s got goalies. But once you get into the 16-team range, it becomes more of a numbers game, which is something that I would argue fantasy sports are supposed to be about.
We use five goalie categories and nine skating stats in our league, with “goals” being the tiebreaker in the event of a 7-7 playoff matchup. Some may argue that having an even number of categories in a fantasy league is dumb, but not so much when you’re in a H2H each category league. If it was “most categories,” there would be the potential for some ties, but in an “each category” league you can have the convenient 7-7 record for both teams during a tied week. Some may also think that 5 of 14 is too many categories for goaltenders. I would say that’s everyone’s prerogative, but too many fantasy leagues, especially those that allow a shorthanded assist to count in seven different categories, completely diminish the effect of goaltenders on the outcome of the fantasy league. And after all, who would argue that goalies don’t play a big role in real-life, on-ice hockey success? Because remember, that’s what we should be trying to mimic.
Shots on Goal as a Positive Skating Stat
I understand that sometimes we just have to include some statistics that the league keeps track of in order to get the number of countable statistics up in fantasy hockey. What I don’t understand is why a missed shot counts in the favor of a skater.
For most hockey actions, there is a winner and a loser. Some of these are quantified accordingly in fantasy hockey. For instance, when a faceoff is won, it is also lost by another player. When a group registers a plus-1 by being on the ice for an even-strength or shorthanded goal, the opponents all are burdened with a minus-1. When a skater scores a goal, the goalie also suffers a goal against.
So why then do so many fantasy leagues, without batting an eye or taking one second to consider, include shots on goal as a positive statistic for skaters? Here’s what a shot on goal is: either a goal, or a shot that was saved by the goalie (or a missed shot). The positive outcome is obvious — the goaltender is credited with a save, which are almost always counted positively for goalies in fantasy leagues. Had the shot gone in, the goalie would suffer a negative fantasy impact by allowing a goal, which also raises his GAA and lowers his save %. But here, the shot didn’t go in. It’s a positive for the goalie, and a negative for the skater. I’m not saying missed shots should count against skaters, although shooting percentage would be an interesting fantasy stat that would actually punish missed shots. What I’m saying is there is no good argument for counting a saved shot as a positive for the shooter.
I can already hear the dissent. “But you gotta fire pucks on net and good things can happen… Sometimes a shot gets saved but then stuffed home by a teammate.” Okay. The thing about firing on net because good things can happen is already accounted for by the fact that fantasy leagues track goals, which are the good thing that can happen. And if the puck doesn’t go straight in or off an opponent, and rather gets stuffed home by a teammate, that’s also accounted for by the fact that every league also tracks assists, which is what a rebound counts for in the box score for the original shooter. Folks, there is no good argument for counting shots on goal as a positive stat for skaters other than laziness or just wanting to not mimic on-ice hockey. That’s fine, just understand that counting SOG as a plus for skaters is pretty similar to giving fantasy football points to quarterbacks for each incomplete pass.
Three Ideas that Took Our Fantasy Hockey League to the Next Level
Feel free to copy these ideas if you like them, but think about sending over a referral or something. When Bill Simmons writes about having a fantasy football ménage à trois every few weeks, or in-game betting that affects fantasy team records, people attribute the ideas to him. Think about implementing one or more of these ideas and let me know how they impacted your fantasy hockey league at the end of the season, positively or negatively.
The Holiday Cup
Over the past few years I’ve fallen in love with and consumed a lot of european football, or soccer if you want to call it that. Two of my three ideas are based largely on what I’ve seen across the pond, the first being the Holiday Cup.
Taking just the country of England as an example, teams within the Premier League and its lower leagues compete on different fronts. The first, and most basic, would be their domestic league, which for the top twenty teams in England (and Wales now, cheers Swansea) is the Premier League. The Premier League competition would be akin to our regular fantasy league’s season. Every team falls into place somewhere by the end.
But throughout the season at various times, the country also makes time for a couple large tournaments that include not only teams from the Premier League, but also the lower leagues. In the case of the more popular tournament competition, the FA Cup, you and I could pretty much start a bakery over there and get some guys together and enter the FA Cup. The tournament starts for the lesser teams in the summer, and holds its rounds on fixed dates all the way through the final the following May.
There’s no real easy way to have inter-league competitions in fantasy hockey, but there is a way to have a tournament like this that stretches over time within a league. I set it up on holiday weeks because some of the greatest high school and college hockey in America comes in these Thanksgiving or Christmas-time tournaments. Another reason it’s great is that a team that is still alive in the tournament may have taken a downturn in the league’s regular season, but still has this trophy to play for — much like the English FA Cup sees most years.
We have four divisions of four teams each, but it doesn’t really matter how your league is setup or how many teams there are. But for the sake of giving ideas, here’s what we do: Over 18 regular season weeks, a team plays every other team in the league once, and then plays its three divisional rivals a second time. What we did is move the first wave of divisional games up to weeks 1 through 3. The team that leads its division qualifies for the Holiday Cup semifinals, which are staged during the week that encompasses Thanksgiving. Since the matchups are necessarily inter-divisional, it doesn’t matter how the schedule is set up because you can change it right after week 3 to accommodate the needed matchups during week 7 or whatever it will be by the holiday.
Also, by doing this you don’t mess up your league’s regular season at all. Since every team plays every other team once anyway, you are able to have these semifinal matches be part of the league’s regular season. The winners then go on to play each other on the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with the Winter Classic hopefully playing some sort of role on the matchup. And again, not a wrench in your regular season, because that matchup was scheduled for sometime in the future anyway, so you can simply swap two weeks of play after week 7. In our league last year, two of the Holiday Cup semifinalists had the league’s two best records by the end of the year. Neither won the league championship. The other two HC qualifiers had the 8th and 9th best records by the end, but at least had periods of four weeks during the season where they knew a big matchup was coming.
Take it or leave it, but we love it as an extra competition that not only spices things up, but also gives that all-important hope to more teams throughout the season than would otherwise have it. If you have questions regarding how to set something like this up in your own league, feel free to ask. I live for this stuff, and you’ll love it.
The Relegation System
This idea was entirely lifted from the setup of european football, and has the problem of needing a lot of dedicated owners who can keep their egos in check. It remains to be seen whether we truly have that.
To keep people competing throughout the season, I set up a second league that is distinctly lesser than our top league. I’ve referred to it as a feeder league. It works exactly like the Premier League and the Championship, with the two worst teams from our league dropping to the lower league, and being replaced by the two teams from the lower league that won the regular season and playoff championships. The lower level regular season champ is the league champ, and does not compete in the promotion playoff.
The 15th and 16th place teams in our top league dropped down to the lower league. Regarding keeper leagues, instead of having specific new owners take over specific rosters, we threw every vacated roster into an expansion draft and let the new people pick from those players to get their keepers heading into the real draft.
The benefit from this is not only that people on the bottom play for their lives the whole way through, but also that in theory the worst owners are replaced year-to-year by other owners who have shown an ability to succeed, which hypothetically can only increase the overall level of competition in your league. In addition, once that lower level promotion playoff starts, it has a feel that I imagine is much like the English Championship promotion playoff between teams that finished 3rd through 6th. People who maybe otherwise wouldn’t care so much suddenly make moves and battle hard, and the increased competition for something that feels real can only be in line with what we try to create with these fantasy leagues in the first place.
Before you set this up, ask yourself a couple of questions, and be honest. First, do you have enough people to make the second league worth running? I’m not sure I really do, but it still remains to be seen. Second, are you and everyone else in the league alright with being relegated and having to play in what is explicitly referred to as a lesser league? We had one relegated owner quick to join the lower league, and one go absent. Third, do you honestly want to compete in a more competitive league? The snap answer is “yes,” but I find that some people are more content to play in a league composed of one-third novices and one-third absentee owners, giving them a 25% or better chance to win it all. Many people can’t handle losing. But since you are still reading this and are in the hockey world, I’m going to assume that you have honor and reflection in your being, and that you would rather lose in a great league than win in a garbage one.
The Consolation Tournament for the #1 Draft Pick
This idea is exactly what the title makes it look like, and it has been a booming success. In our 16-team league, the top half makes the playoffs. This is in line with the real NHL, which sends 8 of 15 teams in each conference to the playoffs. Since we are very competitive, it is not all that easy to just decide to follow your team and automatically make the playoffs. Because of this, good teams and good owners miss out on the top 8 from year to year.
The solution to this “problem” off too much competition is setting up a playoff, identical to the one for the championship, that involves the bottom eight teams. It’s seeded 9 through 16 just like you would think, and the winner, the team that wins three rounds, gets the number one overall draft pick the following year (or whatever draft order spot the owner wants, but in keeper leagues you almost always want #1).
In addition to allowing the bottom eight teams to play a playoff for something tangible that can affect the future of their teams, the consolation bracket also serves as a last-ditch shot at top-level survival for the 15th and 16th-place teams. If one of them is able to win the entire tournament, they remain in the top league and gain the top overall draft pick the following year. The 14th-place team gets relegated in their stead.
Since we’ve been doing this, the #9 overall team has never won the tournament, but has said every time that after the initial disappointment of failing to qualify for the playoffs wore off (which usually takes about one day), they were more excited to compete for the top draft pick in a tournament that they thought they should win than to limp in to the real playoffs as an 8 seed and have a very small chance at upsetting three straight teams en route to the league title. And other than the bottom two teams trying to survive, the consolation tournament has the most on the line for the 9th-place team, as winning it gives them the first overall draft pick, but losing at any point guarantees them the eighth draft spot.
Keeper Leagues and Auction Drafts
The decision over keepers is entirely up to each league. Keepers give the league the feeling of continuity, as what you do now affects who you have in future years. But, of course, the more keepers a league has, the fewer great players are involved on draft day. I can see the argument both ways, but I prefer keeper leagues. How to setup and go about enforcing keeper rules is not something that I came up with, so I won’t waste anybody’s time by rambling on about time limits or prices to be paid in future years by keeping certain players. If you’re interested in more keeper league ideas, just google “fantasy hockey keeper” or something. I did a few years ago and came across a lot of relevant results.
And lastly, I always love me a good auction draft because it requires more skill across the board from each owner. The problem with it is similar to the problem with rotisserie or total points leagues: there will always be some owners who are in over their heads.
While I think the idea of auction drafts is far superior to a snake-style player selection process, I would caution that a league needs a lot of dedicated owners who can hold their own mathematically in order for the auction not to turn lopsided and give otherwise good owners the feeling that things were screwed up by others’ lack of understanding. If you can pull it off, the auction draft can be one of the most fun and entertaining things you can take part in.
Well my fellow beauties, that’s all I have to say right now about what to consider when looking for the right fantasy hockey league this year. I hope you gained something from it, and thanks for sticking with me through these 7,600+ words. As always, feel free to leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter. Have a good season.
With six captaincies still vacant in the NHL and the recent anointments of American-born forwards in St. Louis and New York, I thought it was worth a look into whether any more Team USA representatives are likely to don “Cs” for the first time this year, and what the similarities are between the current team captains hailing from the good ol’ U-S-of-A.
My Disclaimer Regarding International Competition; Skip Ahead if You Just Want to Read About the American “Cs” and the Six Vacancies.
Before we get into the discussion, I want to say that international competitions and representations make me feel a little uncomfortable for a couple reasons. For one, aren’t we supposed to be working toward a global community? It’s interesting to me that we of the higher GDP per capita nations always speak of improving the quality of life in other countries, but then put paint on our faces and wave flags around, screaming about how we want, no, need to beat these perceived lesser nations in a sporting event that would otherwise have 80% of watchers mindlessly rooting against the more developed national squad purely on the basis of cheering on the underdog. In hockey, we don’t have as widespread a range of these occurrences as exists in soccer purely on the basis of the smaller number of nations that play hockey at a national level. So while at the World Cup every team not from Europe, Brazil or Argentina is a decided underdog, the landscape of international hockey is not as littered with upset opportunities. Belarus, Germany, Latvia, Switzerland and Norway represented the long shots at the 2010 Olympic tournament, which meant that those smaller hockey national programs made up only 42% of the field.

Another reason I’m annoyed with international competitions these days is that it feels contrived because many players are best friends, linemates and groomsmen with/for guys on other national rosters. Hell, even Lindsey Vonn constantly talks every winter about how her best friend is fellow alpine skier, but German representative Maria Riesch. Vonn had to brush off rumors and allegations that she didn’t get along with countrywoman and competitor Julia Mancuso, which led to some rather uncomfortable interviews in which both women said they were once friends, then weren’t, and are now alright with each other. Two of the three statements came across as true.
I don’t mean to take this conversation out of the hockey world, but my point is that perhaps we’ve outgrown the idea of international competition. It surely shouldn’t be done away with, as it has some seriously positive effects on sport. The men’s olympic ice hockey tournament is amazing. For those two weeks, the players seem to really care, and it offers us a chance to see what the talent overload of the NHL might look like if there were only eight teams in the league. But, it’s not the NHL.
Hockey hooliganism doesn’t seem to be nearly the problem that it is for soccer in the international realm, but let’s remember that we didn’t get the chance to see what would have happened if the nation’s team failed to win its do-or-die game in Vancouver. For most of us in the “civilized world,” international competitions of sport are treated the way they should be: as games that are important to us at the moment. But it’s when we start getting young fans from warring or recently warring nations, specifically a few of those from the Balkans, that the hooliganism of the whole setup comes to play. Since none of those nations have ever sniffed the championship division of the IIHF, we haven’t had to see the same kind of hooliganism in international hockey.
Backes, Brown & Callahan
Alright, four-paragraph disclaimers aside, I loved the choices that the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers made in naming American forwards David Backes and Ryan Callahan as team captains this past week, and that’s not just because both players have been hard-working members of my fantasy team in the past two years (and I only have one team). Backes and Callahan are beauties in the sense of the word. They never place blame on others, they throw their bodies around and come up with point totals that transcend their God-given talents. In fact, their games are easily comparable to one of the two other American-born captains in the league today, Dustin Brown. The 26 year-old from Ithica, N.Y. has played all but 10 games since the lockout for the Los Angeles Kings. Brown has scored between 53 and 60 points in each of the last four seasons, and is always amongst the league leaders in hits. And like Callahan, Backes (once upon a time), and the only other team captain from the USA, Montreal’s Brian Gionta, Brown plays right wing.
Here is a breakdown of how Brown, Backes and Callahan compared in 2010-11:

Player
GP
G
A
+/-
PIM
ATOI
HITS
BLKS
STP
Dustin Brown
82
28
29
17
67
19:22
300
29
15
David Backes
82
31
31
32
93
19:42
213
40
16
Ryan Callahan
60
23
25
-7
46
19:54
224
77
17
  • STP = special teams points
Obviously there are more than a couple stats here that stand out in their similarities between the players. The point totals, skating time, hits and special teams points are all within a very small range. Of note are how close their goal totals are to their assist totals, which screams of forwards who have limited talent in comparison to top-level NHL forwards. The point totals themselves may leave something to be desired, but the goal totals are very solid. This is indicative of a group of players that are limited in their creativity, but that work hard enough to finish plays. I think this best describes these three players who will now wear the “C” for their teams.

Dustin Brown has worn the “C” in La-la land for three years already.
Another stat to notice is the hit totals. Had Callahan not gotten injured, he would have probably won the scoring title between these three guys, as his scoring pace when extrapolated over just 80 games would have produced 31 goals and 33 assists. Additionally, Callahan could have been counted on for 299 hits, which would have been just 1 shy of Brown’s total of 300, which saw him finish third in the entire league behind Cal Clutterbuck and Tuomo Ruutu. Backes wasn’t lacking in the hitting department either, although his 213 were a 20 percent drop from the year before, when Backes placed fifth in the NHL in hits behind Clutterbuck, Stephane Robidas and, you guessed it, Brown and Callahan.

David Backes’ hits may have fallen in 2010-11, but here he is fighting the MVP of the league.
While Brown is entering his fourth season as captain of the supposed conference contending Kings, Backes and Callahan are trying to qualify for the playoffs in their first seasons as captains. Regardless of whether they all do so, they will close the regular season as a trio of 27 year-olds. But will they be the only American-born captains in the league aside from Gionta with the Habs?
Ryan Callahan is both a beast and the new captain of the New York Rangers.
That depends almost entirely upon who is named captains of the six teams that currently have vacancies. For three of these teams — Philadelphia, Florida and the New York Islanders — there is next to no chance that the new captain has or will ever don the stars and stripes at any level of international competition. The Flyers could slap the “C” on Chris Pronger as a short-term solution in the wake of trading former captain Mike Richards to L.A. The Panthers should, in my opinion, give the captaincy to center David Booth for time served and being the team’s best player, although the acquisition of Brian Campbell from Chicago could alter that outcome. And I would be surprised and confused if the Islanders didn’t name John Tavares team captain. He’s been their best player for a short time now, as he should be based on his #1 overall draft spot, and he’s saying the kinds of things in the media that befit the leader of an up-and-coming squad.
It is highly unlikely that Buffalo names an American captain, although I would point out that Roberto Luongo was laughably named the captain of the Canucks not too long ago (and has since relinquished the gig), and certainly Ryan Miller would be a better fit in Buffalo given his comparative lack of competition from his skaters. But I make this argument jokingly, as a goalie should almost never be the team captain for a multitude of reasons.
The other two vacancies see potential for a couple Team USAers that have been the best offensive players on their teams for some time now. In New Jersey, there’s no real argument against Zach Parise being the team captain. He’s epitomized Devils hockey in the last six years. Like the trio of Backes, Brown and Callahan, Parise is 27 years old. Unlike that trio of current American NHL captains, however, Parise adds a serious scoring prowess to his heart-and-soul character. In the two seasons before he got injured last year, Parise averaged 88 points and over 40 goals. In fact, Parise’s worst season since his rookie year saw him tally 31 goals, which would have tied Backes and outdone Brown and Callahan last season.
But, nothing is ever as cut and dry in the real world as it is on paper, is it? After the Devils went and locked down Ilya Kovalchuk, who plays the same position as Parise, for the next millenium, Parise came to his senses and positioned himself to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That doesn’t mean that he’s leaving the team, but it means that his eyes are open and he’ll probably see what he thinks of this season’s bunch before making up his mind about staying. Now, on the one hand, the Devils could try to guilt trip Parise into signing an extension by naming him team captain and playing to his blue-collar mentality and give him a sense of false responsibility.

But I have a feeling that the team realizes that the motivations behind this gesture would be see-through, and might even insult Parise’s intelligence. Parise, once believed to be an overly loyal company man, has shown that he either gets it or is listening to close confidants by refusing to marry this organization that may in fact not have a realistic shot at any more Stanley Cups in the next ten years. Despite Parise being the most qualified man for the job, I’d put the likelihood of him being named captain around 30 percent, if only because there’s nearly no competition for the job. To name Kovalchuk captain would guarantee Parise’s departure, and may even lead to a mutiny among players and fans who have been less than pleased with the recent direction of the front office. The most logical man to win the job is Patrik Elias, who has been a Devil since 1995 and has two years left on his contract.
The most likely team to elect the fifth American captain in the league is the Colorado Avalanche. They have the second-lowest payroll in the league as of today (per CapGeek.com), and have only five skaters signed beyond the current season. Of the five, only Team USA silver medalist Paul Stastny could even be considered for the captaincy. That means that Stastny is only competing against players that, as of today, are entering the final year of their contracts. To be in the final year of a deal is not disqualifying when it comes to wearing the “C,” but it certainly is easier to give it to the guy that you know is contractually obligated to be around longer.
If Stastny is not named the captain of the team, I would have to assume that honor would go to either elder statesman Milan Hejduk or third-year center Matt Duchene. Of course, American defenseman Erik Johnson could be in the discussion under the “John Tavares” argument, being that Johnson was selected 1st overall in the 2006 entry draft, but then again the Blues wouldn’t have traded the supposedly uber-talented blue liner to Colorado last season if he was really captain material. Then again, this is the Avalanche organization we’re talking about. They may just decide to name Joe Sakic captain and prevent anyone from wearing the “C” on the ice this season. Assuming someone gets it though, my money would be on Stastny.
If named captain of the Avs, Stastny would represent a departure from what has recently become the stereotype of the American NHL team captain, or I suppose what I’m trying to argue the stereotype for such a spot should be. Stastny is much more of a creator than a finisher, as he has marked almost exactly double the number of assists as compared to goals in his five-year career. With 321 points in 348 career NHL games, Stastny has proven to be a reliable point-per-game center on a team that desperately needs consistency in its play. One question on the matter may be whether Stastny’s candidacy was harmed this spring when his father Peter said that management “destroyed the team” by shipping out Paul’s linemate Chris Stewart, along with rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, to St. Louis in exchange for Johnson (and Jay McClement). Paul was quick to distance himself from the comments and say that he disagrees with his father’s summation of the deal, but one has to wonder if there’s some fire hiding behind that smoke.
All in all, I really don’t care who these teams name as their captains, although I think I’ve made the case for why certain players should get a “C,” and why some players probably will. Only time will tell, and we are close to finding out. Preseason games start this coming Monday, September 19. Let’s drop the puck already.
Mourning 3 guys (Belak: suicide; Rypien: suicide; Boogaard: mixing painkillers with alcohol) who took their own lives is completely understandable. But these were 43+ who didn’t choose to die. Let’s not let their foreignness subdue anything here.

Much appreciation to every person who plays / has played the game of hockey. They’re the reason the fans get what they want, and they put their physical and mental health, as well as lives, on the line to try to fulfill some sense of career, accomplishment, and/or happiness. Today, the world lost some of the few who are lucky and good enough to see those sacrifices pay off professionally. There were a lot of former and future NHLers on that plane, but that’s not specifically what this is about. It’s about the game, and today, the game lost.